Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll … or not?
That is the question trying to be answered by city leaders, Carnival associations and individual Mardi Gras organizations, as it relates to COVID-19’s impact on the 2021 Carnival season.
On August 28, Mayor Sandy Stimpson sent a memo to the president of the Mobile Mardi Gras Association and the executive director of the Mobile Carnival Association trying to provide guidance from the city.
The season, which begins with balls in mid-November and runs through Fat Tuesday on February 16, is obviously months away, with the first parade scheduled for Friday, Jan. 29. But the mayor stated in the memo, “Making plans in this ever-changing COVID-19 environment is very, very challenging, simply because the city is not control of many factors impacting the decision process,” citing CDC guidelines and orders issued by Gov. Kay Ivey.
Stimpson said ASM Global, the company that manages the Mobile Convention and Civic centers, where most of the balls are held, is working on letters to send out to all of the organizations this week to tell them what their capacity limits would look like if we were still under existing orders, which Stimpson described as what would hopefully be a “worst-case scenario.”
Obviously, we are still months away, but we just have no idea where we will be with COVID then, and many of the organizations are already in the throes of planning their balls and parades right now.
Some are just proceeding as if everything is going to be business as usual. And will adjust closer to time if necessary.
But others, including some of the non-parading organizations, have already pulled the plug, including a local favorite, the Order of Osiris.
Osiris is one of the original LGBTQ Mardi Gras organizations, known for their very elaborate tableaux, which obviously takes place inside during their ball, with members of the tableaux walking (or being wheeled) around the dance floor surrounded by ball-goers.
One member I spoke with said it was just too much to ask their members to commit all the time and money it takes to create the costuming, set pieces and props when they weren’t even sure they would be able to have the ball at all. Or even if they were able to do something, the capacity would be so limited, would it be worth all the trouble?
Some organizations may still opt to do members-only balls or smaller events.
But the bigger question affecting the larger population of Mobile is what will happen with the parades.
In his memo, Mayor Stimpson said, “For now, I ask you think about creative outdoor alternatives to a traditional parade and large dense crowd format. Let imagination be your guide.”
Challenge accepted, mayor!
Although, having an imagination during COVID-19 is really not much fun at all.
You can “imagine” there will be a vaccine available at every corner drugstore by Christmas, and by January 29, we will be beginning to put this national nightmare behind us, and end up having the craziest Mardi Gras ever.
OR, you can “imagine” nothing has really changed at all, or we have another winter “spike” and things are worse, and we will not be able to have Mardi Gras at all.
Obviously, we all hope COVID-19 is behind us and we are screaming our heads off for beads, MoonPies and dirty, used stuffed animals.
But let’s “imagine” we are kind of where we are now — no big spikes, no danger of hospital beds being unavailable. We are just kind of still sitting around here waiting for a vaccine and this to be over.
Then let’s “imagine” what things could look like ….
POSTPONE the party?
Obviously, Mardi Gras is a pre-Lenten celebration, and there are clear dates for Fat Tuesday and Lent, dating back to the beginning of timekeeping, or something like that.
Purists are going to be adamantly against this, but for the heathens who just want to party at some point, I guess we could postpone the festivities to some time in the spring or summer?
My co-worker Dale Liesch joked it could be called “Tardy Gras.”
It’s not like we haven’t had a Mardi Gras parade in the middle of summer before. Remember when we had one to celebrate great economic development news (I think it was either for Airbus or ThyssenKrupp or both?) That one was really fun. The “day parades” could be at 6 p.m. and the “night parades” could be at 9 p.m. It could actually be really neat.
Do the NUMBERS
For those who are against changing the calendar, maybe we could just change the route instead? And math can help us!
And I hate math, but I recognize its value. (Is that a bad math joke?)
What if we took the largest known, single-day crowd estimates on record — I am talking Joe Cain or Fat Tuesday on a beautiful, blue-sky day — and figure families or “pods” of friends travel in groups of four on average — how many square feet and total miles would the parade route need to be to allow safe social distancing? (I hate math, but I really hate word problems. Ugh!)
You know how those annoying folks in New Orleans go stake out and reserve their spots with ladders and such? Maybe we could do that, just in the name of social distancing. Every other barricade could be marked off as the appropriate social distance. Businesses could even sponsor marking off these “safe boxes” all along the route, and they could be offered up on a first-come-first-served basis. Granted some a-holes would try to “claim” some as their own for the entire season and fights over spaces would definitely occur, but Metro Jail needs more people, right? (That’s another bad joke. Sorry.)
Somebody get some University of South Alabama math nerds on this, stat! (Although, I’m sure they will come back saying we would need a 400-mile parade route from Mobile to Birmingham to make this happen, but let’s just enjoy “imagining” this until the nerds burst our bubble and our “imagined” super, duper, mega Mardi Gras Parade Route X!)
Take the parades TO THE PEOPLE
So, this “re-imagining” is going to seem really crazy.
But you know how we have the Mardi Gras parade “sampler platter,” as I like to call it, for the LendingTree Bowl parade? Where we have different floats from each organization represented? (I actually love that parade for that very reason.)
Well, what if we had four or five parading “teams,” comprised of two to three floats from each organization? And every night during Mardi Gras, each “team” went out to different areas of the city and paraded down every street and neighborhood within the city limits? No barricades needed!
How much safer could you possibly get than standing in your own front yard to watch a parade? And can you imagine your children telling their children, “During the pandemic, the Mardi Gras organizations actually paraded down the street I grew up on, right in front of Grandma and PeePaw’s house. It was crazy! I’ll never forget it.”
Of course, there are logistical and public safety and budgetary and probably many other problems with all of these “imaginary” alternate plans. But the mayor said, “Let imagination be your guide.” He didn’t mention any limits!
It’s sad we have to even rethink any of this. Such is life during COVID-19.
I know all any of us we really want to “imagine” right now is standing around in our own favorite spots on Parade Route A, talking to friends about balls and Joe Cain plans and the weirdest throws caught so far … and letting the good times roll exactly as they always have each and every year since we started this thing.
Imagine just how nice that would be.
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